My biceps aren’t big, but they do have detail and a bit of a peak, and I owe both to two things: my genetics, and spider curls. I can’t offer much help in the genetics department (talk to your parents about that), but I can provide you with some solid info on what I consider the No. 1 exercise for hitting the outer head of the biceps brachii muscle, which is the one responsible for providing that peaked look to a flexed biceps.

Spider curls were a favorite exercise of bodybuilding legends ranging from Steve Reeves to Vince Gironda to the recently departed Larry Scott, and for good reason: They’re as intense a biceps isolation exercise as has ever been invented. If you haven’t tried them, you only need to do a few reps to understand this to be true.

Back in the day, most gyms had spider curl benches, but they’re much harder to come by in 2014. A spider curl bench is similar to a preacher curl bench, except the armrest pad lies perpendicular to the floor rather than at a 45-degree angle; and, in the case of the original bench, there was often a long, narrow pad behind it on which you’d lay your torso, stomach-down. Odds are your gym doesn’t have a spider curl bench, but it may have a preacher curl bench that’s padded on both sides of the armrest. If so, you’re good to go. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of bench I’m using in this photo.

How To Do It

To do the spider curl, lean over the preacher bench’s armrest, hanging your upper arms off the back so they’re perpendicular to the floor. You can position a barbell on the seat of the bench, have a spotter hand it to you, or, if you’re coordinated, lift it over the bench and get your elbows in position. Hold the barbell (cambered or straight—your call) with hands at a comfortable width. A narrower grip more directly isolates the outer head, while a wider grip hits the inner head.

When you curl the bar upward, make sure to keep your shoulders down and back as you push your hands forward, away from your shoulders. The idea here is to remove the shoulders from the equation as much as possible. As for the range of movement, don’t go completely to the top, as you’ll lose tension there, and don’t lower the barbell completely to the bottom, as curling from this position puts stress on the elbows. I like to stay within the middle three-quarters of a full range for optimal tension, flexing hard at the top of each rep.

If you’re doing them right, you should get a noticeable pump from spider curls, partly because, by pinning your arms to the bench, you’re restricting blood flow. Aim for higher reps on these—between 10 and 20.

As always, I encourage comments and questions. Feel free to tweet me your thoughts on the spider curl, and let me know if you like them as much as I do!

More Power to You,

Shawn Perine

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Twitter: @shawnperine